“The meeting was held to create and implement a plan to hire an independent investigator to investigate alleged claims of inappropriate conduct made by Mayor Daryl J. Finizio,” Leon Rosenblatt, Ackley’s attorney, wrote in the complaint.
During the meeting in question, held Feb. 4, the City Council met behind closed doors to discuss its strategy to move forward with both the investigation of Ackley and the pending lawsuit Ackley filed against the city in June 2013.
Risk Manager Paul Gills had made a recommendation “relative to how the city is proceeding in relation to the investigation,” Finizio told the council at a previous meeting, and wanted to discuss it with the City Council in executive session.
The council’s agenda included a motion to enter executive session to “discuss the status of pending litigation, namely Margaret Ackley V. City of New London, et al. … strategy and negotiations with respect to pending claims or pending litigation.”
Rosenblatt said it would have been “perfectly fine” had the council only discussed the lawsuit Ackley filed against the city, but he said the investigation into Ackley’s conduct pertains to Finizio’s suspension of the chief and not to the lawsuit.
“When I saw (the agenda item), I thought it was perfectly kosher because there is in fact a settlement conference coming up in the litigation, and they certainly have the right to go into executive session to discuss anything about the settlement conference,” he said. “Evidently, they went beyond that and started talking about hiring a person to do an investigation that has nothing to do with the litigation … and apparently agreed on who it was going to be and how much they were going to pay her.”
After the executive session, City Council President Wade A. Hyslop announced that no motions had been made and no votes taken behind closed doors, according to the minutes from that meeting.
City Attorney Jeffrey T. Londregan, who attended the executive session on Feb. 4, said Wednesday afternoon he had not seen the complaint filed by Rosenblatt and declined to comment specifically on it.
“In my opinion, any discussions that took place during that executive session were within the purview of what was posted,” Londregan said.
At a meeting two weeks later, the council approved spending up to $20,000 to hire attorney Kathleen Eldergill of the Manchester-based law firm Beck Eldergill to begin an “independent personnel investigation” of Ackley’s alleged misconduct as police chief.
In the complaint, Rosenblatt alleges that Ackley had, and was denied, the right to participate in the executive session and request that the meeting be held in public session. The complaint requests that the Freedom of Information Commission order the City Council to comply with the Freedom of Information Act and laws regarding executive session, and to declare void any action taken by the council during an “illegal and secret” meeting.
“This absolutely has to be done in public,” Rosenblatt said. “The taxpayers of New London have a right to know when their leaders are throwing away money.”
On July 31, Finizio suspended Ackley, with pay, “pending the outcome of an investigation into her conduct as chief.” Finizio said he suspended Ackley because of allegations that she selectively targeted union leaders for discipline, withheld information about the public safety requirements for the Sailfest festival and deliberately failed to assign officers to Ocean Beach Park on the weekend of July 4 “in order to make a political budgetary point.”